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Is Literary Style a Secret?

2013 September 18


Last week, an LA Times article asked, “Are ladies of literature secret clotheshorses?”  which made me wonder–why does it have to be a secret? Seriously, is it so shocking that readers and writers would be interested in fashion?


Literary style is something that seems to be on the collective mind lately. The Guardian asked readers what they felt the importance of clothes is in literature. Flavorwire recently put out a list of the “Most Stylish People in Literature”  and Sheila Heti, Leanne Shapton, and Heidi Julavits are collaborating on a new book called Women in Clothes: Why We Wear What We Wear. Women in Clothes is an interactive and inclusive project (surveys are available for download on their website–I filled one out!) meant to divulge what meanings we get from the clothes we wear each day.

In a recent interview for W, Julavits, a novelist, explained–” I read humans, and in particular women, through the clothing they put on their bodies. I understood their outfits as public witnesses to their more secret selves. The impulse wasn’t about fashion consciousness or brand awareness—it was about honoring this information as important. Intentionally or not, a woman reveals many things—her ambitions, her anxieties, her life philosophy—through how she dresses herself.”  I think that this is a huge and fundamental question of our identity as people, whether you love shopping or fashion or not–we all express our identity through the clothes we wear. It’s one of the most visible ways we have of showing what’s going on inside of our hearts and minds.


Of course, this is a big part of what I’m trying to do with this blog–create a place where fashion and literature aren’t mutually exclusive, but rather, feed off of one another. So many of the writers, editors, and readers I know are snappy and stylish dressers, and do care about their appearance, contrary to what seems to be a weird belief that all literary people are pale nerds dressed in tweeds and sweater vests. And glasses. Because, obviously.


So what IS literary style? Is it funky glasses and plaid skirts? Totebags with slogans like “I Like Big Books”? Designer clutches that look like famous book covers?

I don’t think it’s something that’s completely easy to categorize and define. It’s something different for everyone, because literature, at its core, is about what it means to be human, so it should represent all types, shapes, sizes, and yes, styles.

Though a typewriter as accessory never hurt anyone.

How do you define literary style?


2 Responses Post a comment
  1. September 22, 2013

    I agree with you that it’s silly to assume that bookish people can’t be stylish. I don’t think I can define literary style, since there so many different types of literature. I wonder if the type of literature a person likes, influences her style in any way?

    • Jill permalink
      September 23, 2013

      That’s a really good question! I’m inclined to say that it probably does. That would be an interesting sociological experiment!

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